It is doubtful if anyone can ever have their fill of the many beautiful landscapes that make up the Himalayan region and more specifically Leh Ladakh. Each place that you visit in Ladakh, be it the Nubra Valley or the Pangong Tso is an adventure tour in itself offering you an opportunity to capture the pristine beauty of this small but panoramic Himalayan town. Passing through the highest motorable road in the world, watching the sand dunes at Hunter or just simply capturing the unbelievable beauty of the Pangong Tso is like living a dream. Ladakh is one place you will feel like coming every year for the rest of your life; such is the draw of the Himalayas.
However every journey has to end and you need to start preparing for the long road trip back to Srinagar from Leh via Kargil, albeit with a heavy heart. Kargil is located almost midway between Leh and Sringar and it is best to start early so that you can catch all the scenic places that lie on the way to Kargil.
Leh to Kargil (138 Kms)
After checking out of the hotel and a thorough inspection of the vehicle to ensure everything is fine, you must make a stop at the nearest petrol station to fuel up just to be prepared for emergencies. The road from Leh to Kargil takes you through some high mountain passes. Before you get there, however, in case you want to visit some of the iconic places in Leh one more time, this is yet another opportunity. Make your first stop at Spituk Monastery, a virtual treasure house of Buddhist culture containing over a dozen statues of Buddha, big and small. The monastery is said to house more than 100 monks at any particular time and is the site for the famous Gustor festival.
After a brief tour of the monastery, head straight towards Magnetic Hill where you can witness firsthand a gravity defying moment, the phenomenon of your car being pulled upward on its own even when the engine is switched off. Next stop could be at Gurudwara Pathar Sahab, built in the 1500s to commemorate the visit of Guru Nanak and now maintained by the Indian Army. Seated on top of a mountain, the Gurudwara offers a breathtaking view of the Himalayas and its different vistas. Consider making a halt at Nimmo to capture the confluence of two mighty rivers, the Indus with the Zanskar. The different colors of the two rivers make the confluence one of the many wonders of the Himalayas that needs to be seen to be believed. After a few photo ops, head towards the ancient monastery of Lamayuru. One of the oldest and largest gompas located within Ladakh, Lamayuru Monastery is located just 15kms east of Fotu La and plays host to two of the biggest dance festivals in Ladakh when monks from all over Ladakh and even outside gather here to pray and celebrate.
Crossing Fotu La, the highest pass on the Leh Srinagar Highway (4108 m) should not take much effort either, now that you have already been to Khardung La and maybe even Chang La. Next comes the even smaller Namika La Pass and then head straight towards Mulbekh, a must stop to admire the 9 meter long standing statue of Maitreya depicting the future Budhha overlooking the old trade route.
Kargil lies not very far away and after covering more than 225 kms on one day, you can now make a halt to recover from the journey as well take in the sights and sounds of Kargil. Fortunately the roads all along the Leh to Kargil route are in fairly good condition which make the journey less strenuous, also there is no AMS to deal with while coming down so you should not be too fatigued even after the long drive.
There are many good places to stay at Kargil like Zojila Residency and Caravan Sarai, rated high on Trip Advisor. Kargil offers quite a few decent local eating options to tourists as well as communication and ATM facilities, so be sure to make use of the facilities since you are not likely to find anything till you reach Sonmarg the next day.
Kargil to Srinagar (213 Km)
Rise up early so that you can take in the local sights at Kargil before starting your journey. A relatively unknown town made infamous by the war with Pakistan, your first halt is at the War memorial at Drass to pay homage to the brave soldiers who laid down their lives defending their motherland before proceeding ahead. You will hear lots of stories from locals, about the war and the heroics of soldiers who braved bullets fired from everywhere to capture peak after peak. Be prepared for some chilly winds as you cross through Drass, temperatures drop drastically in this region and numbness starts setting in. Fortunately it’s a short drive through Drass till you reach Zoji La ( 3538 m), the trickiest part of the entire journey from Leh to Srinagar.
A narrow dirt filled winding road makes crossing Zoji La a nightmare in the rainy season. Zoji La Pass allows only one way movement of traffic at a particular point regulated by specific timings. If you have had either the foresight or the luck to reach Zoji La at a time when the gates of Zojila are open for traffic on your side, your passage will hardly take any time. However, if the timings allow traffic movement coming into Leh, then be prepared for a long wait. Use the time to soak in the beauty of the Himalayas perched atop the pass one last time before you start descending into the valley.
As you leave the mountains behind, the lush green valley of Sonmarg greets you and it is truly a sight to behold. The name is befitting the place as rows of rows of green sun soaked meadows billowing in the wind seem like poetry in motion. Be prepared to be asked to produce identification papers as Sonmarg is virtually an army town with soldiers visible almost everywhere.
A short drive of 85 kms brings you to the end of your journey at Srinagar where you can set up base for the night before finally making the last leg of your trip to your home town.